Despite Protests, Google Rolls Out Privacy Changes

by , Mar 1, 2012, 5:15 PM
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Despite protests by state attorneys general, EU regulators and consumer advocates, Google today began rolling out its controversial new privacy policy.

The new policy allows Google to combine data about signed-in users across YouTube, Search, Gmail and other searches. Google isn't collecting any more data than in the past, but will now use that information to personalize ads and other features to a greater extent.

"In the future, if you do frequent searches for Jamie Oliver, we could recommend Jamie Oliver videos when you’re looking for recipes on YouTube -- or we might suggest ads for his cookbooks when you’re on other Google properties," Alma Whitten, director of privacy, product and engineering says in a blog post about the new policy.

While Google isn't allowing people to opt out of the new policy, there are steps people can take to opt out of some data aggregation and personalization. Because Google is only combining data about signed-in users, people who don't want data tied to their accounts can sign out of the service. People also can remove their Web history (and tell Google to stop compiling it), use different browsers for different tasks, and opt out of personalized search results as well as online behavioral advertising.

While the tech blogs have been full of advice this week about how to configure Google's privacy settings to opt out of personalization, it's not at all clear that average consumers are either following the news or inclined to start tinkering with Google's default settings.

Some of those consumers will likely be in for a surprise when they start receiving more personalized ads. Whether most people will welcome the ads or be creeped out by them remains to be seen.

Meantime, Google could continue to face legal pressure over the new policy. Today, the EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding joined the roster of officials voicing disapproval. She told Bloomberg TV that EU officials "are very concerned because they are persuaded that these new rules are not at all compliant with the existing European laws.”

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